Had a call one day from an old high school football teammate, and in the course of the conversation, he made a quote that indirectly came from his wife, something about "dumb lineman." He didn't mean like climbing a light pole.
Pat and I played together on a pretty good Leland High team, and had a lot of fun growing up. After he hung up, I spent an hour with our old (there's that word again!) high school yearbook, and there was the same quote next to both our names: "Everybody picks on the linemen!" For the life of me, I can't recall where that quote came from, unless it was one of the coaches, but I do remember that we got a lot of mileage out of it.
It seemed to be a rule when we watched the game films on Monday that the only plays we saw were when we had missed a block or a tackle. "Neill, you let that Number 62 whip you again, boy!" At least, that was the rule for linemen. But seems like the replays of backs were: "See, now that's the way to run over a tackler, Dave!" Or, "Way to turn that corner, V-Shape!" Of course, the guy on the ground in that paused frame was the guard who had pulled and blocked the opposing defensive end, so V-Shape could get around him! Yet if that were noted, it would be as, "Neill, you can't just lay there, son! You got to get up and make another block downfield!" So what if there was a 230-pound end laying on you?
I went on to play at Ole Miss when the Rebels were Number One, back in the glory years. I was too small for a college lineman, even in those days when we were winning National Championships with guards weighing less than 200 pounds, who played both offense and defense back then. I played just over a year, and stayed hurt: separated shoulder, broken thumb, ruptured artery, ruptured hip joint that finally ended my playing days. Yet I was there, by gum, with a bunch of All-American linemen who pounded me into the ground during scrimmages.
But you know what people ask when the subject comes up? Not, "When did you play?" but, "Who was the quarterback when you played?"
Not once has anyone asked, "You played at Ole Miss? Who was the left tackle when you were up there?"
Matter of fact, we did have an extraordinary left tackle whilst I was there. On the day of the first freshman-redshirt scrimmage, this big blonde redshirt called all freshman linemen into the locker room, and seated us on the floor around a table, upon which was a helmet. "Watch this, boys," the tackle said. Then he poised with one elbow over the helmet: "Ready? Crash!!"
He brought his elbow down onto the helmet from a foot over it, and the headgear smashed into little bitty pieces. "Remember that, when you got to block me today!" the blonde tackle growled, and stalked out. He didn't get blocked much that day, nor the next three years he played, making All-American. The story was, he had polio as a child, and his elbow had been replaced with a steel elbow. I can't vouch for that story, but his demonstration was excellent!
So, what Pat and I learned in high school pretty well proved true in college and thereafter. Yet some of the finest folks I know are guards, tackles, and centers. A center that went on to become a doctor saved my life by finally diagnosing the Babesiosis anemia that accompanied my Lyme Disease, and curing it.
Oh, well, it was a team effort, and usually the quarterbacks don't go out seeking the glory, it's the media people who focus on them. If God had gifted Pat and me with accurate rifle arms and bodies unlike fireplugs, we'd have been quarterbacks, or split ends. But He didn't, and we blocked for the guys who ran and passed, congratulating them when they scored, or made a good play. In retrospect, I never played with a quarterback who wasn't a pretty quiet nice guy, off the field. And that was well before the days of modern “Hot Dogs.” If one of us had done a dance or beaten our chests to the crowds back then, we'd have “run the stadium” every afternoon for the next week!
Hometown Teams! Seems like we were truly molded into real teams back then, both in high school and college.
And I never thought of it before now, but that prepared us well for the period right after college, when many of us were pressed into service for our country, fighting a real shooting war. A squad, or platoon, or landing party, in my case, was a team. We fought for each other, that we'd all come back safely, hopefully on the winning team.
This is part of the Smithsonian Institution's Hometown Teams Exhibit programming, funded by the MS Humanities Council. The views expressed are solely the Author's, and do not represent those of the MHC, NEH, DSU, or Smithsonian Institution. Friends may visit the exhibit until Nov. 11, from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. To schedule tours or for more information, contact Archivist Emily Jones by calling 662-846-4781, or by e-mailing to